Further writings on Constantinople, 1814-1815

'The Dragoman with us asked me if I had any desire to visit the Ladies of the Harem'

Quill and handwritten journal page

The fascinating manuscripts grouped together at National Library reference number MS.5708 are largely Henrietta Liston's accounts of significant events in Constantinople between 1814 and 1815. The loose sheets are of differently sized paper and have been individually titled by Henrietta.

The earliest manuscript is dated 5 October 1814 and describes a fire around the British Embassy in Pera. The latest manuscript, dated 20 January 1815 describes the assassination of Dr Lorenzo, physician to the Sultan. Liston's writing also covers the term 'sultana', funerals, and her visit to the harem of the 'Collector of Customs'.

The Fire at Pera: 'a sublime spectacle'

This manuscript is Liston's vivid account of a fire which broke out around the British Embassy in the early hours of 5 October 1814. Henrietta describes the 'increasing blaze', 'the houses burning like paper' and the 'miserable wretches' driven out of their homes who had 'no other place to lay their heads' than the Embassy.

Fires were common in Constantinople. The British Embassy was damaged in 1810 when there was a large fire in Pera, and later, in 1831, it was entirely destroyed. During the Listons' residency, the Embassy kept its own fire engine and wooden structures in the grounds, such as the porter's lodge, were rebuilt in stone. To prevent fires in Constantinople, watchtowers, night-patrols and a fire firefighting unit (a 'tulumba ocağı') were established. Interestingly, Henrietta comments on the expense of fires, public reactions to them, and their political significance.

'The title of Sultana does not seem to be perfectly ascertained'

The manuscript Henrietta titled 'Of the term Sultana' is dated 1814. It appears to be a version of passages dated August 1813 which appear in her main 1812-1814 journal. While Henrietta repeats the common tropes of Western visitors to harems, and is mistaken in some information she gives in this manuscript, her description of the meaning of the term 'sultana' is correct. The term was used for the sultan's mother, his sisters, his daughters and his concubines.

The visit to the Harem of the Chief Customs Officer

Liston's short account of her visit to the women's apartments — the harem — in the household of Gümrükçü Osman Pasha, the Chief Customs Officer, includes descriptions of the appearance of the women she meets and of how she communicated with them. Unlike on other occasions when she visited Turkish women, during this impromptu visit Henrietta was not accompanied by an 'interpretess' so she conversed with her hosts 'by signs'.

'This event has excited many strong sensations': The Death of Doctor Lorenzo

The lengthiest, most detailed piece of writing in this group of manuscripts, Henrietta’s account of the murder of Doctor Lorenzo Noccrola, chief physician to the Sultan, is fascinating. Dr Lorenzo was 'an old acquaintance' of Robert Liston's from his first embassy to the Sublime Porte in 1794, and on their arrival in Turkey in June 1812, he and Henrietta had wanted to visit Lorenzo at his home in the village of Stephano (now a neighbourhood in Istanbul). Lorenzo's assassination in January 1815 shocked many people in Ottoman Istanbul. Robert, in a dispatch to the Foreign Secretary Lord Castlereagh, wrote: 'No incident that was not of a public and political nature has ever since I was acquainted with this country, occasioned so great a sensation in Constantinople as the violent death of Dr Lorenzo' (National Library of Scotland reference MS.5630, f.7r).

In her writing on the murder, one senses that Henrietta has a desire to gather as much information as she possibly can to narrate what happened to Dr Lorenzo on the day he died. Her writing reveals something of her access to information and rumours in the diplomatic circles of Constantinople. Although 'cautioned not to make it [the assassination] a subject of conversation' except to Lorenzo's own family, Henrietta 'gently tried' at one of the British Embassy public evenings, 'but found everyone dumb'. This manuscript also discloses Henrietta's perception of the Sultan and the nature of his and his government's power. Towards the end of her account she states: 'the Sultan and Capitan Pasha are carrying on a farce of grief at the untimely fate of this old favourite'.

Read the manuscript
Manuscript page with quill pen and ink pot

Places mentioned in this manuscript


Selected people named in this manuscript

Names in brackets are how Henrietta Liston refers to that person or spells their name in her writing.

Count Antoine-François Andréossy, 1761-1828 ('Andreossi')

Diplomat. French Ambassador to the Ottoman Porte from 1812 to 1814, Andréossy was also Ambassador to Great Britain from 1803 to 1805 and to the Austrian Empire from 1808 to 1809.

Napoleon Bonaparte, 1769-1821 ('Bonaparte')

Soldier and statesman. In 1796 Napoleon married Joséphine de Beauharnais and was given command of French Army in Italy. He was Emperor of France from 1804 to 1815.

Beatrice Chabert, née Pisani, 1784-1848

The daughter of Stefano Pisani, dragoman (interpreter) to the British Embassy, and the wife of François Chabert. Her son, Robert, also became a dragoman in the British embassy.

François Chabert

The third in rank of the eight dragomen at the British Embassy during the Listons' residency. The Chaberts were a prominent family of French origin in Pera in Constantinople. François became first dragoman in 1824 when Bartolomeo Pisani retired.

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, 1744-1818 ('Queen')

Charlotte married George III in 1761 and served as Queen of Great Britain and Ireland from her wedding until the union of the two kingdoms in 1801, after which she was queen consort of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until her death in 1818.

María Guadalupe Hernández de Alba ('Mme de Jabat')

María Guadalupe was born in Havana, Cuba, the daughter of Lorenzo Hernandez de Alba. Married Juan Gabriel de Jabat y Aztal, the Spanish Envoy to the Ottoman Empire, in 1807. The Listons were friendly with the couple and their son Rafael became a diplomat and served in Britain 1834-36. One of her letters written in French to Henrietta in the Liston Papers at the National Library.

Andrej Jakovlevitch Italinski, 1743-1827 ('Chevalier d'Italinski')

Diplomat and scholar. Italinski was Russian Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1802 to 1816.

Henry Lindsay, 1789-1859

Rector of Sundridge, Kent. The date of Lindsay's arrival in Constantinople is unknown, but he was serving as Chaplain of the British Embassy by September 1814. He travelled to Smyrna (Izmir) with the Listons in 1815. He remained as embassy chaplain until 1817 when he returned to Britain and became perpetual curate of Wimbledon, Surrey. He was succeeded as chaplain to the embassy in 1817 by Jacob George Wrench (1791-1860).

Sir Robert Liston, 1742-1836 ('Mr Liston')

Diplomat. Born in Kirkliston, Scotland, Robert Liston became an influential diplomat and was the second person to serve as British Minister to the United States, 1796-1801. Robert's service coincided with a highly significant period in British-American relations. In 1796 he married Henrietta Marchant Liston. In 1811 he was appointed British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire and took up the post in 1812.

Juan Gabriel de Jabat y Aztal, 1768-1825 ('Javat' / 'Jabot')

Spanish naval officer and diplomat. Jabat served as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Ottoman Porte from 1809 to 1819. Robert Liston described him as 'an enthusiastick [sic] patriot, and manly and honourable in his conduct. — He originally undertook, at a period of publick distress, to perform the duties of office without salary or emolument […] he at length succeeded in reestablishing the Spanish Mission at the Porte on a footing of respectability and improvement' (National Library reference: MS.5635, f.42). Jabat was Minister Plenipotentiary to Britain 1822 to 1824. He was married was to María Guadalupe Hernández de Alba.

Mahmud II, 1785-1839 ('Grand Signor')

The son of Abdulhamid I; Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1808 to 1839, he introduced a series of social and administrative reforms, abolishing the Janissaries in 1826.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, née Lady Mary Pierrepont, baptised 1689, died 1762

Writer. Born in to an aristocratic family, Lady Mary eloped to marry Edward Wortley Montagu (1678-1761) in 1712 and, in 1716, accompanied him on his embassy to Constantinople. During her two-year stay in Turkey. 1763 saw the publication of Wortley Montagu's famous 'The Turkish Embassy Letters'.

Mustafa IV, 1779-1808

The son of Abdulhamid I, Mustafa succeeded his cousin as Selim III as Sultan in 1807. He was deposed in 1808 and strangled on the orders of his brother Mahmud II.

Lorenzo Noccrola, died 1815 ('Doctor Lorenzo')

Physician. Dr Lorenzo was official physician to the Seraglio from the 1770s to 1815. In a dispatch to Lord Castlereagh Robert Liston describes Lorenzo as 'principal physician to the Seraglio for 54 years' and 'a favourite with all the Sultanas’. He adds that he was 'born in Florence, educated in Rome', and had a 'greater portion of Medical […] knowledge & talent than […] the majority of his brethren', with ‘the most singularly mild and pleasing manners, with a spirit of generosity and hospitality, which procured him a universal acquaintance and numberless friends' (National Library reference: MS.5630 f.7). Lorenzo was assassinated in 1815 during the Listons' residence in Constantinople.

Selim III, 1761-1808

Sultan Selim III attempted to reform the Ottoman administrative and military establishments. He was replaced by Mustafa IV, who had ordered the execution of Selim III in 1808, and who was in his turn executed on the orders of the next Sultan, his brother, Mahmud II.

Baron Ignaz Lorenz Freiherr von Stürmer, 1750/2-1829 ('Baron Stumner')

Austrian diplomat and the Austrian Internuncio in Constantinople from 1802 to 1818. He was married to Elisabetta Testa, daughter of Gaspard Testa, dragoman and diplomat. Their eldest son Bartholomaüs (1787-1863) also became a diplomat and served as Internuncio in Constantinople.

Hurşid Ahmed Pasha, died 1822 ('Grand Vizier')

occupied the position from July 1812 to 30 March 1815.

Koca Hüsrev Mehmed Pasha, died 1855 ('Capitan Pasha')

Hüsrev Mehmed Pasha was the Kapudan Pasha, or Grand Admiral of the Turkish fleet, from 1811 to 1818 and again from 1822 to 1827. He had fought alongside the British against the French during the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt (1800-1) and was appointed Governor of Egypt in 1801.

Gümrükçü Osman Pasha, died 1838

Served as Chief Customs Officer, the Gümrük Emini, between 1811 and 1829.

[Library reference for this journal: MS.5708]

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